SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, April 20, 2022 (Gephardt Daily) — Those looking for a way to help ease the suffering in Ukraine will have an opportunity this weekend when “A Ukraine Benefit Concert of Kalyna: The Musical” is performed Saturday April 23 at the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Theater in downtown Salt Lake City.
The concert-style performance and silent auction is a fundraising effort for Ukrainian refugees who have fled into Romania, and for desperately needed medical supplies, which will be taken into Ukraine.
The show, which was written before the Russian invasion, is set against a backdrop of 50 plus years of Ukrainian history, following a father and daughter as they grapple with loss, love, freedom and oppression in a culture dominated by the Soviet socialist style of government which enslaved eastern Europe from 1945 to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The event will include performances by Allison DeBona, first soloist from Ballet West, the BYU International Folk Dance Ensemble, the Weber State Alumni Choir, and professional artists and actors from across the state.
Gephardt Daily spoke with the authors of the musical, Carissa Klitgaard and Benjamin Lowell.
Lowell said the idea for the musical came about several years ago. “I felt like I should write a musical, kind of a crazy thing to think, but I started researching some ideas and I’ve always been fascinated with World War II, the history especially, and as I was researching I started reading some stories about events that occurred in Ukraine prior to World War II in the 1930’s, widely known now as Holodomor, which was Stalin’s attempted genocide of the Ukrainian people; about 4 million Ukrainians starved to death. And as I was reading this historical account and some journals also of individuals who experienced that, it was just shocking, that I wasn’t aware of this massive genocide, and it just felt like their story needed to be told, and so because of that research and reading, I became fascinated with Ukraine and their resilience and their ability to move forward despite all the challenges they face.”
Lowell then met Klitgaard and they became good friends. “I told her about this idea that I had,” Lowell added. “I’m much more musically inclined, I think in music terms, not as much writing, so Carissa was kind enough to want to partner with me, so that’s how it started.”
The show has been some four years in the making.
Klitgaard said the two did almost a year of research. “I read a lot of journals, in preparation for writing this, and trying to immerse myself in the culture and understand their traditions as well as I could. After about a year of research we began the actual writing process and we worked really closely; I would write some scenes and then I would write some lyrics of a song that I felt like a character could sing and then Ben and I would work together on the music, so I wrote most of the script and lyrics and then Ben wrote the music.”
Klitgaard added that the two had a trip to Ukraine planned in March of 2020, and they intended to take a documentary crew with them. However, their trip coincided with the travel ban and so while Klitgaard made it over, Lowell and the crew did not. Klitgaard was then in Ukraine for four days.
“It felt like I was coming home somewhere I’d been before,” Klitgaard said. “The people are so kind and gracious and just grateful that you’re there, and you care about them and what’s going on. I feel like they feel forgotten a lot of times. It’s so vibrant, it’s much more vibrant than I think maybe people would assume. But I loved everything about it, so when we heard that this was taking place and the places I had seen when I was there and the memorials were being bombed, and in jeopardy, and all this beautiful history was being lost, again, words can’t really convey the devastation that we feel for Ukrainians.”
The two said they felt horrified and helpless earlier this year when Russia invaded Ukraine, but were compelled to help in any way they could.
“I think we both had a feeling, should we do something with the show now?” Lowell said. “Is this a way that we can raise awareness and get people to connect to Ukraine, beyond just the current conflict, but really connect with the culture and the people and their tradition, and I think the most important thing is, their strong identity.” He added: “We both felt that this story that we have participated in, we feel a lot more like bystanders, and instruments, as opposed to creators, I feel that a lot, it feels like it might have already been created in some way, and we’ve just been piecing it together, it’s an odd sensation, but because of that, I don’t feel ownership of it as much… it feels like Ukraine owns it, or the people should own this piece of work.”
Lowell added that though the musical was written before the current conflict, there are certain lines and songs that are “exactly what we’re seeing.”
Klitgaard explained that the musical will be presented in a concert style, in that the performers will read from a script and sing from music; there will also be two dance numbers. She also expounded upon what the two are hoping to achieve with the evening in addition to raising funds. “I think we want to close the gap between us and Ukrainians,” she said. “They’re just people, with very similar wants and desires and struggles and emotions and we want them to feel really close to us. If we had everything we wanted we’d love for people to fall in love with Ukraine like we have.”
The two said they hope there might be opportunities this year to present the concert-style version of the musical in other places, possibly in New York and Chicago.
“We’re hoping that this will continue to raise awareness and money beyond this event,” Klitgaard said.
The evening will also include a reception and silent auction of specifically commissioned pieces of artwork for the event, created and shipped from all around the U.S., beginning at 5:30 p.m. The show begins at 7 p.m. Tickets are available from saltlakecountyarts.org or by calling 801-355-ARTS.
The U.S. Friends of AMAR is a partner for the evening. AMAR is specifically doing work in Romania, taking in and distributing supplies to Ukrainian refugees. They are also working with the Romanian government to walk supplies directly into Ukraine. The link to give if you are not able to attend the performance is available here.